This is part 1 of our 3-part series on Ethical Investing where we will discuss the controversial areas that KiwiSaver funds invest in to help you ensure your fund matches your values.
I’ll admit it - for years, I contributed to my KiwiSaver account with little grasp of what KiwiSaver was, much less whether or not it matched my values and ethics. When I saw what a difference it could make, I got advice and sorted it out. Now as part of the BetterSaver team, it’s my job to know about this stuff and make sure other people do too.
We recently ran a BetterSaver social media poll where we posed the question, “Do you know if your KiwiSaver fund holds the same values you do?” Turns out that 63% of respondents were unclear.
So let’s get some clarity about the role your personal values play when investing in KiwiSaver funds.
Your values and your KiwiSaver
KiwiSaver is not a savings account, it is an investment. That means your dollars are supporting various companies and what they engage in.
Your investment can have a positive impact, but it can also support things that go against your values. Your values are what you personally find important and influence the way you live your life.
You might value making environmentally-friendly choices in your everyday life while unknowingly investing in companies that don’t. You might value treating others with kindness, while your KiwiSaver fund could be supporting human rights violations.
If you’re like me, you want to know that your money is working towards things that line up with your values and ethics while earning great returns.
How can you know?
Ethics is a massive topic and incredibly personal. Over ¾ of Kiwis expect their KiwiSaver funds to be invested responsibly and ethically, but this means different things to different people. There isn’t any clear definition of what a fund labelled as “sustainable” or “responsible” means, so you can’t rely on a fund’s marketing to ensure your KiwiSaver fund matches your values.
The BetterSaver team has identified areas that are of concern to many Kiwis. We believe everyone should have a choice about whether or not they invest in companies that support these areas. That’s why we designed our fund finder quiz to include questions about your values, so we can easily match you to a fund you feel good about investing in.
In this series of articles, we’ll address the issues that might conflict with your values so you can decide where you stand. To be clear, we are not advocating for or against investing in any of these areas but providing information so you can make your own informed decisions.
How do you feel about…
First up: alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and adult entertainment.
KiwiSaver funds are invested in all of these areas. They are all legal, employ thousands of people, pay taxes, contribute to the economy, and can be enjoyable and entertaining. But there is potential for harm as well. Where you stand on the issue and whether you are happy to have your money invested in it is totally up to you.
For some people, a boozy beverage is a means of relaxation or something to enjoy when out with friends.
For others, it causes massive harm. Every year, 800 Kiwis die prematurely due to alcohol. It is highly addictive, impacts families and communities, and exacerbates mental health issues.
Like it or not, alcohol is a major contributor to our economy. New Zealand’s wine industry alone accounts for almost $2 billion of exports annually.
Whether you choose to invest in the alcohol industry doesn’t necessarily reflect how you feel about drinking. You might enjoy a drink now and then but not be ok with how alcohol advertising and promotions can affect vulnerable people.
A report from the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) shows that 61% of people don’t want their KiwiSaver to invest in alcohol. But a 2019 Mindful Money analysis shows that only 1% of KiwiSaver funds exclude alcohol in their policies and that $428 million was invested in alcohol.
When you take our fund finder quiz, we’ll identify how strongly you feel about investing in alcohol and match you to the fund that best aligns with your stance.
Buying a Lotto ticket or playing the pokies occasionally can be exciting. You might lose a little money more often than you win, but it is generally pretty harmless and a bit of fun. Plus, Lotto NZ gives 100% of their profits to support good causes, so even when you lose, at least your money went somewhere worthwhile.
But gambling can get out of hand and become an addictive behaviour, causing harm to finances and relationships. It’s not just an individual problem - every problem gambler affects 5-10 other people. It disproportionately affects people on lower incomes, Maori, Pacific peoples, and Asian communities.
This year, the NZ government invested $76 million into a Strategy to Prevent and Minimise Gambling Harm. Such a large investment reflects the concerns about the societal harm caused by gambling.
In the 2021/21 financial year, New Zealanders spent $2.6 billion on gambling. This was a 17% increase over the previous financial year. Spending on pokies alone makes up almost $1 billion of that total. With over 60% of pokies in medium-high to very high deprivation areas, a lot of that money comes from people who can’t afford to lose it.
Some KiwiSaver providers invest in gambling establishments. It is up to you whether you want to be in a fund that invests in them or not.
There is no doubt that tobacco kills. Every year, tobacco contributes to six million deaths globally. In New Zealand, 500 people die prematurely due to secondhand smoke.
Cigarettes deliver a rapid hit of nicotine to your brain, stimulating the release of chemicals that make you feel good and that your body gets used to having around. This is why people become addicted and find it so difficult to stop.
The government’s Smokefree 2025 initiative has set a goal that fewer than 5% of Kiwis will be smokers by 2025. Currently, about 85% of NZ is smoke-free.
The focus on reducing tobacco use has caused many KiwiSaver providers to avoid investing in tobacco. In 2016, the Herald revealed that $102 million of KiwiSaver funds was invested in big tobacco, shocking many Kiwis who had no idea their contributions were supporting the tobacco industry. In 2021, this amount had decreased to $33 million.
Almost 80% of Kiwis do not want their KiwiSaver funds to support tobacco, and it seems many providers have gotten the message.
Time to talk about porn and prostitution. In New Zealand, sex work is decriminalized, and we are the only country with laws that uphold the rights of sex workers. And we watch a lot of pornography - while exact numbers are impossible to determine, per capita NZ ranks 13th in the world for visits to the largest porn website.
Given how easy it is to access adult entertainment online, there are concerns about how it affects young people and their views of healthy sexual relationships. While an adult can recognise fantasy and understand context, young people’s brains have a more difficult time. Also, consent is not often addressed, with a recent analysis of the largest porn website having some non-consensual behaviour in 35% of its videos.
Is your KiwiSaver fund invested in adult entertainment? It is hard to know. If a company generates less than 50% of its revenue from the production or distribution of adult entertainment, then it may not be classified as being involved in adult entertainment activities. This doesn't mean that your KiwiSaver fund is invested in the adult entertainment industry, but it means that you can't be 100% certain that it isn't.
The easiest way to make sure your KiwiSaver fund matches your values
At BetterSaver, we advocate for better data and greater transparency around where exactly KiwiSaver funds are invested. In fact, this lack of transparency is one of the reasons why BetterSaver exists. We believe that your ethics and values are important and that KiwiSaver providers should be upfront about what they do with your money.
Until that happens, we’ll keep up our research to uncover where KiwiSaver funds are invested and keep calling out the providers who don’t make the grade when it comes to social responsibility.
The algorithm behind our fund finder quiz takes into account your values and matches you to a better KiwiSaver fund so that you can invest with confidence, knowing exactly where your money is invested. Take the quiz and switch your fund to get peace of mind today.